True Tragedy of Dido

Topics: Dido, Aeneas, Virgil Pages: 7 (2967 words) Published: October 4, 2005
What is the true tragedy of Dido? Scholars have debated various perspectives over the years. One could argue that Dido's major tragedy was losing a love that the Gods had forced her to feel and had also stolen from her (Farron). Another essay argues that her death in the end of Book IV, or more specifically dying by her own hand was her downfall (Fenik). However, the most convincing argument is that Dido's true tragedy was her lack of piety. Piety had very specific rules in Roman society. For example, the fact that Dido was willing to sacrifice her public duties to the state for the sake of a private infatuation was completely against the rules of society. Her distancing from power in order to pursue personal interests is itself a kind of death in the Roman world, and scholars argue that suicide was just a secondary method of self-punishment (McLeish). In order to define piety more clearly, it encompasses a few main ideas, which include devotion to God, to family, to the rules of the state, and to one's duty to fulfill his destiny. If Dido is just another obstacle for Aeneas to overcome in order to show the importance of finding Rome, her episode would have been as significant as Charybdis, Scylla, or Polyphemus, but Dido is much more important (McLeish). We can come to the conclusion that though those other obstacles proved the importance of following one's destiny, the Dido episode showed a character who drowned in her emotions and lost her sense of duty contrasting to Aeneas' character who enters Book V as a stronger, more-focused character. In this paper, I will try to prove that Virgil is using Book IV to show that Dido's, or any Roman's, ultimate tragedy is forgoing piety for selfish reasons. Virgil portrays both Dido and Aeneas as strong, heroic, clever characters and there are numerous similarities between them. Our impression of Aeneas is compatible with the Roman male ideal. He obeys the Gods, stays on his destined path, and has an overwhelming commitment to his duty to the state. Both characters escape from their homelands due to severe circumstances and suffer through such an existence for noble causes such as finding new empires. Both characters are compared to the Gods repeatedly. Virgil compares Dido to the goddess Diana, the powerful huntress, and Aeneas' actions are described as "noble as a god's" and he is repeatedly referred to as the "son of Venus" (Virgil 71). Moreover, Aeneas states that Dido is a fair and just ruler of her people, as he strives to be himself. So we are led to believe that Virgil views Dido and Aeneas as powerful characters in the same way. However, the Romans believed that the men were meant to be rulers and women were mere counterparts (Singer). Though Dido and Aeneas are similar characters in many respects, the main difference is that Dido lacks piety, which is a necessary quality in Aeneas' character. Through out this paper, I will show the examples of this difference and how it ultimately leads to Aeneas becoming a hero and Dido's tragic death. Dido is a very pious character before her emotions destroy her. She welcomes the Trojans with open arms and treats them with the highest degree of hospitality. When Aeneas first encounters Dido, he almost envies her for the well-established kingdom she had built, and praises her for being such a just and pious ruler (Virgil 11). At first, she honors her dead husband by vowing never to marry again, even though she had many powerful suitors. Then she reconsiders her vow after her sister Anna gives her advice. Finally, the love she feels for Aeneas has "eaten her away" and she can no longer ignore it (Virgil 77). Dido prays to the Gods for a successful marriage and performs all the appropriate rituals and sacrifices, which seems that it would be the suitable act. However the animal sacrifices are still alive, which is evidence that something is not proper in this ritual. Virgil comments, "What use are prayers and shrines...

Cited: Farron, Steve. "The Aeneas-Dido Episode as an Attack on Aeneas ' Mission and
Rome," 2nd Ser., Vol. 27, No. 1. (Apr., 1980), pp. 34-47.
Fenik, Bernard. "Imagery in Book II and IV." The American Journal of
Philology, Vol. 80, No. 1. (1959), pp. 1-24.
McLeish, Kenneth. Greece & Rome, 2nd Ser., Vol. 19, No. 2. (Oct., 1972), pp. 127-135.
Singer, Irving. MLN, Vol. 90, No. 6, Comparative Literature: Translation: Theory
and Practice. (Dec., 1975), pp. 767-783.
Theodorou, Z. The Classical Quarterly, New Series, Vol. 43, No. 1. (1993), pp.
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